By Garrett Cote
This season marks a new era of Springfield College men’s basketball. A newborn sense of hunger, determination and desperation to reposition themselves amongst the NEWMAC’s best has penetrated the Pride locker room. They’re pushing each other like never before, engaging in two, three workouts a day – not letting any team in Division III outwork them.
The longing for excellence can all be traced back to one man:
First-year head coach Mike McClendon.
“He’s pushing us to limits where I didn’t even think we could go,” said graduate student and captain Daryl Costa. “It’s challenging at first, because we’re all brand new to the system. He’s gotten us to come together strong, and we’re just trying to fall in love with the journey.”
The Pride were well below typical Springfield men’s basketball standards a year ago, winning just six games and finishing 4-10 in the conference. But the 2021-22 season is all but a memory, as the leaders of this year’s team have kept the squad’s focus on what’s ahead.
McClendon, who is less than a month into his first season and yet to experience his first game leading the birthplace boys, has been pleased with the veterans and how they have stepped up to make both his and the players’ transition in a new atmosphere smooth.
“We’ve got great leadership, and I’m a little bit surprised at that,” McClendon said. “New coach, new philosophies, it takes awhile for the leaders to kind of stand out, but our leaders, from day one, have been full-go and have bought in. They’re really preaching the same mindset that I have.”
With players like Costa, senior Panayiotis Kapanides and a handful of others who have lots of game experience, McClendon has emphasized the importance of team and unity – putting “we” before “me”. He understands that, to return to NEWMAC glory, it’s going to take a heavy dose of sacrifice and unselfishness.
“It’s all focused on us, on the team,” Costa said of McClendon’s approach. “If one of our guys fails, it’s not just on him, it’s on all of us. We all have to help each other prepare the right way, that way when we get into games, none of us are worried. I’m just focused on how we can get better as a team. If we do that, the rest will handle itself.”
Long-time head coach Charlie Brock had nothing short of a spectacular career filled with accolades and achievements. He implemented a game plan with each team that proved successful for 24 years. The slow it down, under control, by-the-playbook offense that Brock embraced and executed lifted him to a Final Four in 2018. But this year, the Pride will have a different look.
Sure, McClendon has a number of half-court sets stuffed in his back pocket, but that’s not his forte. Springfield will play with pace. Lots, and lots, of pace.
“The goal is always to have a track meet. We call it controlled chaos in practice. Play hard and play smart,” McClendon said. “The tempo and the passion that they’re playing with right now, if that can continue, I do see us being successful. We’ve been showing that so far in practices. Guys are real passionate and competitive, they don’t like losing.”
The Pride lost one of their leading scorers from last season during the off-season, as first-year Jacob Morales opted to take his talents elsewhere. Despite losing a chunk of the scoring, McClendon is more than confident in the players at his disposal to provide the Pride with a spark when needed.
“I think it’s a foregone conclusion for the league, and for most people, that Daryl Costa and Panayiotis are going to be leaders of this basketball team,” McClendon said. “Zeke Blauner has been instrumental in practice bringing attitude and intensity. And I think Andrew Rocci has been a great addition, he’s been playing his butt off in practice. Those four guys are standing on that upper echelon right now.”
Springfield welcomes Western New England in the annual cross-city season opening matchup with the Golden Bears on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7:00 p.m. The Pride haven’t beat WNE since 2019, but are more than prepared to change that next week.
“We’re pissed off from how we finished last year. We don’t want to repeat that, so there’s a little motivation behind it. I’m super excited, and I have high hopes for this team. We’re coming together and we’re geared up for that first game. Western New England is always a banger,” Costa said.
“Coach always says, ‘When you prepare with purpose, you are promised progression.’”
Photo Courtesy of Springfield Athletics